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We’ve all fantasised about walking along Diagon Alley or feasting in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. The nearest you can get to living the dream is to visit The Making of Harry Potter attraction in Watford.
The wizarding experience has now reopened following months of enforced closure. But what will you see there? When should you go? And are there any spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen all the films?
What to expect
As you’d imagine from a studio tour, the attraction focuses almost entirely on the Harry Potter movies, rather than the original novels. Key sets from the films are recreated for you to explore. These include the Great Hall, the Forbidden Forest, Platform 9 ¾ and Diagon Alley. Smaller areas bring to life such places as the Weasley kitchen, Dolores Umbridge’s office, Privet Drive and the Gryffindor Common Room.
Besides the sets, the studio tour is replete with props and costumes from the eight movies. Look out for Quidditch strips, house robes, teacher’s robes, and outfits from the Yule Ball (including a wizarding tuxedo). Familiar props can be found wherever you look, from wands and potions to the Hogwarts Express (if that can be considered a prop). And watch out for the animatronic models.
The experience also includes informative displays about the special effects, creature designs and artwork that went into the eight movies.
When to go
With schools reopened, weekends and school holidays are the only times when most families can visit. Normally, this would have led to a crowded, bustling experience, but the current restrictions will make things a bit quieter. The attraction is open on weekdays, when ticket availability is greater, if that is an option.
You may want to book for the period 14 November to 17 January, when the annual “Hogwarts in the Snow” tradition takes place. You’ll be able to see the Great Hall set decked out in Yuletide decoration, while the detailed model of the castle also gets a frosting.
What’s changed to make the tour safe?
Everything’s been reworked, as you’d expect, to increase cleanliness and social distancing. The attraction has Visit England’s ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard, which verifies it is following industry and Government health and safety guidance.
All tickets must now be booked in advance to a specific time slot. You’ll be asked to walk round using a one-way system, keeping your distance from other guests. Pretty much the whole experience has reopened. The only key change is that you can’t currently step inside the Hogwarts carriage, or the Privet Drive set.
As per any indoor venue, all visitors over 11 will need to wear a face covering -- although those with exemptions will be allowed in without a mask. The attraction is also entirely cashless, so bring a contactless card.
The cafes will be open (and serving butterbeer!), but you’ll be asked for contact information to help with any track and tracing.
What age group will it appeal to most?
The tour is suitable for all ages. Under-4s go free, and buggies are permitted. Younger, or more sensitive children may find some parts a little scary -- such as the model of the giant spider Aragog in the Forbidden Forest. Older children (and parents) familiar with the books and films will get the most out of the experience. Kidadler Helen had the following experience: “I would wait. I took my daughter aged 8 and she loved it so much, and was pointing out all the different things to me. We left my four year old at home even though she would have had free entry and I think that was the right call.”
Does the Harry Potter tour contain spoilers, if we haven’t yet seen all the films?
The books and films get increasingly dark as the series goes on, and this is reflected in their certificates, which start out as PG, but jump to 12 from the Goblet of Fire. Consequently, younger children might not have encountered the later films or books, and you might want to avoid spoilers.
According to Kidadler Eim, “It's better to go after you've seen all the films. A big part of the excitement of going is recognising the things on display from the films and just seeing them in real life! Makes you appreciate it more.”
Kidadler Donna, though, didn’t find it mattered: “We didn't read all books and my 9 yr old had a fantastic time. He was familiar with the films, me not and I also still thought it was fantastic”
The studio tour keeps things mostly generic -- a walk along Diagon Alley, or a ‘ride’ on a (regularly disinfected) broomstick -- but you may see the odd thing that reveals a future plot point. The tour tackles all eight films with equal gusto, so you’re going to encounter scenes, creatures and costumes from later stories. For example, the costumes on display include those worn by the grown-up heroes in the final scene of Deathly Hallows Part 2. You can easily work out who survives, and who ends up married to whom from how they’re displayed.
How to get there
The studios are easily reached by car, a short drive from both the M1 and M25, and free parking is provided. Shuttle buses resume running from Watford town centre from 19 September (£3 return), and you’ll need to wear a face mask. The walk from Watford Junction is a long one, and perhaps not practical for most younger children.
For those in London, the easiest way to get there is via the coach from Victoria Station.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.